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Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel: A Review and a Ranking

The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of Anderson's most successful films in years 

Opening in wide release this weekend, The Grand Budapest Hotel marks director Wes Anderson's (Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums) 8th feature film. The Grand Budapest Hotel tells the story of Gustave H., a charming man with a penchant for romancing elderly blonde women, who runs the day-to-day operations of a famous European hotel as its concierge. Gustave mentors young lobby boy Zero Moustafa during the hotel's glory days in the 1930s. By the 1960s Moustafa is an old man who owns the run-down, out of fashion, and largely unoccupied Grand Budapest, and the story of how he came to own the property unravels as he explains his past to a guest. 

Anderson fans have come to expect a particular panache and style from his films, and while The Grand Budapest Hotel doesn't disappoint in that regard, it also feels slightly broader than some of his previous efforts. For a director with such a recognizable style, that broadening is surprisingly welcome. While maintaining the whimsy and grace of its predecessors, The Grand Budapest Hotel both carries more laughs-per-minute and has a much darker undercurrent.

In rating this film, I found it hard not to compare it to previous Anderson movies - particularly Rushmore. Both movies have a strong protagonist who is clever, well-mannered, and anachronistic. And much of The Grand Budapest Hotel's success is down to the incredible comic timing of its lead actor, Ralph Fiennes. 

So how did this movie stack up to the rest of Anderson's films? Here's my ranking, and where it fits, from least to most favorite: 

8. Darjeeling Limited 
I don't know that any of the movies on this list are bad, but this is certainly the most forgettable Wes Anderson movie in my book. I barely remember the plot or the characters, and the pace was slow. So this one goes last on my list. 

7. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
It's a shame that this one is lower on my list: I love Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson, and I'm surprised their collective work on this script didn't catapult it higher in the rankings. But such as it is, this one felt a little bit too eccentric only for the sake of being eccentric, and was critically probably the worst-received of Anderson's films. 

6. Moonrise Kingdom
I think I'm going to take a bit of criticism for ranking this on the bottom half of the list, but Moonrise Kingdom didn't grab me as much as I know it grabbed everyone else. For me the big issue was the fairly flat characters in the two young leads. 

5. The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Roald Dahl, Wes Anderson, stop motion. What more could you want? This is an incredible and adorable animated film. 

4. Bottle Rocket 
Anderson's first film isn't for everyone, but it holds a sentimental place in my heart. This is one of those movies that gets funnier and richer every time you watch it, and I've seen it more than any other Anderson movie. This one feels more improv'd than his others, and while the story drags in the middle, it has so many quirky moments that I love. 

3. The Royal Tenenbaums 
Anderon's portrayal of a wounded and broken family allows him to highly focus on what he does best: character. He pulls a strong ensemble performance from a group of actors that don't necessarily raise my eyebrows (Paltrow, Stiller, Houston), and tells a bleak story of dysfunctional family. 

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Well, here it is! Time and perspective are apt to change the way we feel about the movies we see, but right now this is my second favorite Anderson film to date. 

1. Rushmore 
Rushmore is what broke Anderson out into mainstream fame, and it remains my favorite of his films. A nearly flawless and timeless movie.  

Overall, The Grand Budapest Hotel is Anderson's best film since Rushmore, in this reviewer's opinion, and is well worth a visit to the theater. It's also an interesting theater view because of its changing aspect ratios - the reels came with a set of special instructions for projectionists to handle those shifting aspect ratios, which are visually interesting but also seamless enough that they're not immediately noticeable. 

I give it an A. 

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